John Clare: The Critical Heritage

By Mark Storey | Go to book overview

64.

Charles Lamb on the ‘true rustic style’

1822

Charles Lamb to Clare, 31 August 1822, Eg. 2246, fol. 99 (Letters of Charles and Mary Lamb, ed. E. V. Lucas, 1935, ii, 327-8).

Clare met Lamb (1775-1834) at Taylor’s London Magazine dinners. Thomas Hood, in ‘Literary Reminiscences No. IV’, Hood’s Own, 1839, 555-6, told how Lamb addressed Clare as ‘Clarissimus’ and ‘Princely Clare’.

The quantity of your observation has astonished me. What have most pleased me have been Recollections after a Ramble, and those Grongar Hill kind of pieces in eight syllable lines, my favorite measure, such as Cowper Hill and Solitude. In some of your story telling Ballads the provincial phrases sometimes startle me. I think you are too profuse with them. In poetry slang of every kind is to be avoided. There is a rustick Cockneyism as little pleasing as ours of London. Transplant Arcadia to Helpstone. The true rustic style, the Arcadian English, I think is to be found in Shenstone. Would his Schoolmistress, the prettiest of poems, have been better, if he had used quite the Goody’s own language? Now and then a home rusticism is fresh and startling, but where nothing is gained in expression, it is out of tenor. It may make folks smile and stare, but the ungenial coalition of barbarous with refined phrases will prevent you in the end from being so generally tasted, as you deserve to be.

-175-

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